Stand-off continues in Leitrim afforestation controversy

A group of Co. Leitrim farmers took to the streets last Friday, November 23, for a protest against the continued afforestation of their county.

The location of their protest was the Sligo offices of the Western Forestry Co-op, which provides services to farmers looking to plant their land.

According to Padraic Joyce, the Connacht regional chairman of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), the protesters were seeking an investigation into the effects of forestry in the region.

The Western Forestry Co-op said it would welcome such an investigation, but added that farmers who wanted to plant their land now shouldn’t have to wait for an investigation to be completed.

“The co-op was founded to provide services to farmers who wanted to avail of the financial benefits of forestry,” explained Marina Conway, of the co-operative, who added that it wanted to see those benefits remain in the local community.

Conway was surprised that the IFA organised the protest at the co-op’s office, claiming that its purpose is to “assist farmers who want to plant their own land”.

However, the protesters, which numbered around 25, believe that vulture funds and multinational groups make up a disproportionately-large amount of those who buy and plant the land.

“Farmers can’t compete with these groups and, for those farmers who want to expand their farms, they find that the land is all bought-up by these multinationals,” said the IFA’s Joyce.

Difficulties for farmers

He also pointed out the difficulties for a farmer in applying for a bank loan to buy land, saying that “no bank will give it – but he’ll get [a loan] if he wants to plant” the land.

However, as Conway explained, this is simply down to the “lucrative nature of afforestation”.

Planting commercial forestry is an economic activity; it offers high yields, and it’s been shown to provide a good return, so therefore a bank will look on it more favourably.

These protesters, and many others, are also aggrieved at what they see as the “unfair targeting” of Co. Leitrim (which is already the most heavily forested county in Ireland) for this afforestation programme, which is ostensibly for environmental purposes.

According to Joyce, those affected want more counties to take on the burden, but Conway claims that Leitrim has been chosen as the location for this programme because the trees grow better there than elsewhere, and produce high yield classes.